The Cretan Diet

Crete

Several studies have shown the Cretan Diet to be one of the healthiest in the world, involving lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh fish, and moderate amounts of wine.

Greek saladGreek Salad

The Cretan Diet is the healthiest in the world. Several studies have shown this, and fortunately the diet is not just healthy but also very tasty. It blends pulses, olive oil, fresh fruit and vegetables, lots of fresh fish… and the robust but health-giving red wine too.

In addition, the diet incorporates most of the other requisites for healthy eating, including nuts, spices, garlic, bread, cheese and meat. Some people refuse some foods such as meat and cheese, believing them to be unhealthy, but the Cretan Diet shows that a moderate amount of all these items is definitely good for the body.

The Cretan Diet

Research begun in 1956 by the innovative American nutritionist Dr Ancel Keys compared diets, diseases and death rates in seven countries across the world, including Japan, Italy and the USA. Greek studies were undertaken in Corfu and Crete. Crete had by far the lowest mortality rates for heart diseases and cancer. In Finland, for example, there were 972 such deaths per 100,000 people in 1986, when the studies were still continuing. The figure for Crete was just 38 deaths, the lowest in the world. Similarly Crete had the lowest rate of deaths from other causes, and lowest incidence of disease. So impressed was Dr Keys by the findings, that he began to follow the Cretan Diet himself… and lived to be 100!

Vegetables

Part of the secret is the quantity of fresh vegetables eaten. Cretans consume three times as many vegetables as other Europeans. These are rich in vitamins and fatty acids, which help fight off heart disease. Most are also organically grown in an ideal climate: mild winters and moderate temperatures in early summer.

Oranges on CreteOranges are a Regular Part of the Cretan Diet

Fruit

Cretans are also said to eat four times as much fruit as the average southern European, and six times as much as their northern European counterparts. Most notable among the fruits is the orange, which grows in such profusion on the island, even in winter, that sometimes people cannot even give away the crop of oranges on their land. These provide numerous vitamins in the diet, notably vitamin C. Grapes are eaten as well as turned into wine, grape skins having antioxidant elements which are believed to offer protection against cancer.

Fresh fish for sale on CreteFish: A Big Part of the Cretan Diet

Fish

Although it is a large island, its long, thin shape means that nowhere is so far from the sea that fresh fish cannot be obtained. There are also trout farms in the interior. As well as being full of vitamins, fish oils are known to help protect against heart disease.

Lyon-Hearted

In a further study of heart patients in Lyon, French doctors divided their patients into two groups. One group was given a conventional low fat/low cholesterol diet, as recommended by the US Society of Cardiology for sufferers from heart disease. The second group was put on the Cretan Diet. The results were astonishing. Mortality rates in the second group were 75% lower than the first group after two years.

Olive-oil bottles on CreteCretan Olive Oil

Olive Oil

Crete produces especially good-quality olive oil. Olive oil reduces the amount of unhealthy LDL cholesterol in the blood stream, which can lead to clogged arteries, but increases the amount of HDL cholesterol, which helps to break down these fatty deposits. Next time you have a Greek salad, there is no need to refuse the olive oil in the belief that it is bad for you. Far better to cut down on dairy products, for example eating your bread without butter, as the Cretans do, and only having a modest amount of cheese in the diet.

See also our page about visiting an olive oil factory.

Wine

Moderate amounts of wine, especially red wine, are also believed to be generally good for health. Red wine has anti-oxidants which help fight several diseases, and studies have shown that people who drink a moderate amount of wine (roughly one glass per day for women and two for men) live far longer than either tee-totallers or heavy drinkers. 

Some other Crete pages

  • Thessaloniki: City of Gastronomy

    UNESCO has made Thessaloniki a City of Gastronomy, under its Creative Cities network, the only city in Greece to be acknowledged for its unique food and drink.

  • Crete

    Crete (Kriti) is the largest Greek island and its main attractions include the Minoan Palace of Knossos, the Samarian Gorge, Chania and Rethymnon.

  • Santorini Wineries

    Visiting Santorini wineries is a popular activity on this Greek island in the Cyclades, whose volcanic soil provides a distinctive terroir.

  • Zakynthos Winemaker

    Antonis Maroudas is a Zakynthos winemaker who lives on the 'wine road' and is one of the people who make Zakynthos.

  • Zacharioudakis Winery

    Greece Travel Secrets visits the Zacharioudakis Winery near Ancient Gortina in southern Crete, and does a vineyard tour arranged by our guide from Go Crete.

  • Where to Eat in Athens and Piraeus

    If you're wondering where to eat in Athens and Piraeus we have a few suggestions including some favorites around the Acropolis, Omonia Square, and Syntagma.

  • What Is Metaxa?

    What is Metaxa? Metaxa is an amber Greek spirit combining brandy made by distilling wine, sweet wine from Samos and a secret recipe of Mediterranean botanicals.

  • What Is Greek Raki?

    Raki is an alcoholic drink made with distilled grapes and anise, and popular in Greece and other Mediterranean countries, including Greece’s neighbour Turkey.

  • Touring the Lyrarakis Winery on Crete

    Greece Travel Secrets tours the Lyrarakis Winery on Crete and learns about Crete grape varieties such as plyto, dafni, vidiano, vilana, mandilari and kotsifali.

  • Tipping in Greece

    The Greece Travel Secrets guide to tipping in Greece from two Greece travel experts, including when to tip, what to tip and when not to tip.

  • The Icon Painter

    Icon painting is a centuries-old tradition in Crete and the rest of Greece, and Greece Travel Secrets meets a modern-day icon painter in Elounda on Crete.

  • The Herb Man of Kouses

    Greece Travel Secrets visits the Cretan Botano herbs and spices shop near Matala in southern Crete in search of the herb man of Kouses.

  • Stilianou Winery near Knossos

    The Stilianou Winery near Knossos on Crete uses only Cretan grape varieties, with every bottle numbered, and aims for quality rather than quantity.

  • The Snails House on Crete

    The Snails House in Plouti near Phaistos in southern Crete serves the Cretan delicacy of snails, cooked in several different ways.

  • Sir Arthur Evans, archaeologist at Knossos on Crete

    Sir Arthur Evans is the archaeologist famous for the excavations he made at the royal palace of Knossos on Crete.

  • Samaria Gorge

    The Samaria Gorge is one the longest gorges in Europe and doing the hike is one of the best and most popular things to do on Crete.

  • Rethymnon in Western Crete

    Rethymnon is the third-largest city in Crete and has a Venetian fortress, Archaeological Museum, Old Town area and Venetian harbour,

  • Phaistos Minoan Palace on Crete

    Greece Travel Secrets page on Phaistos or Faistos, the site of one of the finest Minoan palaces on Crete and is where the mysterious Phaistos Disc was found.

  • Paleohora and the South-West Coast

    The area east from Paleohora along the south-west coast of Crete includes resorts like Agia Galini, gorges like the Imbros Gorge and quieter towns like Sfakia.

  • Our Hire Car in Crete

    The travel tale Our Hire Car in Crete describes what it’s like when you go driving in Greece and get off the beaten track, resulting in kindnesses.

  • Museum of Samos Wine

    A visit to the Museum of Samos Wine to learn about the muscat grapes that produce the best dessert wines in the world and also the Greek spirit, Metaxa.

  • Matala Beach

    Matala Beach on Crete is a guest blog for Greece Travel Secrets from the We Love Crete website, inviting you to Awaken Your Inner Hippy in Matala, Crete.

  • Margarites

    Margarites is known on Crete for its pottery, with ceramics shops and workshops lining the streets of this charming small town not far from Rethymnon.

  • Manousakis Wine Tasting

    We visit and tour the Manousakis Winery on Crete with a wine-tasting and a chance to buy their tsikoudia, sea salt, olive oil and other goodies.

  • Malia and its Minoan Palace on Crete

    Malia on the north coast of Crete is renowned for its nightlife and beaches but also has the Minoan Palace of Malia, one of Crete's many archaeological sites.

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